The Avid Reader
A small, yellow, wooden chair — a childhood keepsake from the hours spent reading aloud to her mother — sits in the corner of a room in Alisha Davis’ house. It is the house in which Alisha was raised, and the house she returned to in 2005 to care for her mother following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
The Columbus Friends of the Library board member and Tenth Street Fairlawn M.B. Church minister of music credits her mother, Ida Davis, who taught first grade in the Columbus school system for more than 40 years, for instilling in her an inexhaustible love of reading, music and travel. A love so profound that Alisha was compelled to convert a small bedroom into a library for her collection of books, including well-thumbed copies of these five favorites.
Alisha confessed an affinity for “a good murder mystery,” but her monthly book club keeps her library stocked with a multitude of genres. The club members meet at each other’s houses, and food and wine is served because, Alisha admitted, “Book talk is so much better with a glass of wine.”
1. Kindred by Octavia Butler — Science fiction is not one of my favorite genres, but Butler’s novel is a magical journey that I could not resist taking. The protagonist, a young black woman living in 20th century Los Angeles, is involuntarily transported back to the antebellum South on six occasions to save the life of a young white boy — a plantation owner’s son who, as an adult, will father her ancestor.
Butler’s imagination marries fantastical happenings to the true-to-life complexities of slavery and kinship, love and hate. Kindred engaged, terrified and moved me with its vivid detail and richly-drawn characters.
2. Cane River by Lalita Tademy — I was introduced to this extraordinary saga when it was selected as the monthly read for my book club. It is the story of four generations of Tademy’s slave-born female ancestors — Elisabeth, Suzette, Philomene and Emily — and their lives on a Creole planation in Louisiana from the 1830s to the 1930s. Cane River explores the importance of family in sustaining the strength and courage to triumph over suffering, abuse and heartbreak. The author has woven historical fact and fiction together to create an unforgettable novel about the complex relationships and struggles of a group of beautiful but flawed heroines.
3. Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson — I was browsing in Lemuria Books in Jackson when this title caught my attention. I stood in the aisle and read three chapters before forcing myself to leave — with the book!
Refreshing and laugh-out-loud funny, Gods in Alabama opens with the protagonist explaining that God has broken His end of their deal, forcing her to return to Alabama. A vibrant mix of murder, dark humor, love and betrayal, it charms the reader from the first sentence to the last letter. With an authentic Southern voice, Jackson tells the tale of a dysfunctional family and explores the complicated relationships between women who truly and fiercely love each other.
4. To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway — Main character Harry Morgan is an essentially good man who is shanghaied by the economic forces of The Great Depression into an increasingly dangerous life of crime on the waters between Cuba and the Florida Keys.
The novel consists of two of Hemingway’s earlier short stories — “One Trip Across” and “The Tradesman’s Return” and a later novella.
In To Have and Have Not, Hemingway examines the social issues of the time and explores the moral decay and depravity of one man, asking the age-old question: Can money make you happy?
5. Why I Love Black Women by Michael Eric Dyson — Simply put, this book is a love letter. Dyson extols the perseverance, pride, strength and sensuality of black women and removes negative stereotypes that dominate much of today’s culture.
From his mother to his grade school teacher, Miss James, to Toni Morrison, Angela Davis and Myrlie Evers-Williams, the author shares the stories of the women who inspired him and reminds us to love ourselves.
I had the opportunity to ask Dyson about his motivation for writing this book. He said he wrote it as a thank you to the women in his life for their love and support and as a reminder to all black women that they are extraordinary.